Climbing Trees : Borders

Mike Scott of the Waterboys spent the early part of his career chasing what he called 'The Big Music' - defining almost perfectly what it was he wanted to achieve musically as: "a metaphor for seeing God's signature in the world" - to me this means something between the sudden awe when you first step into a mediaeval cathedral and the poetry of the arc of a decisive last minute free kick.

If you think I am warming up to go out on a limb about Climbing Trees new album, Borders, then you are right - but first it is worth considering the individual songs.

It's been three years since their impressive debut, the Americana influenced Hebron. Almost visibly casting aside the frustration that delay must have caused, the new album boldly opens with the exuberance of Tracks, already familiar as a single, propelled by a percussive piano and undeniably marvellous.

The next two songs share a musical mood and tempo - Lost is choppy pop with an extraordinary chorus and Set in Stone sustains the upbeat momentum. The fourth track, Amber, with its uplifting, repeating refrain - underpinned then elevated by the Cambria String Quartet - is just majestic.

Caesar is the first of three instrumentals - initially slow, open and mellow, with a slight country tone to the guitar, and then drums and the string quartet turn it into something swirling and glorious.

The song that follows, Fall, is the highpoint of an exceptional collection; starting quietly with just Matthew Frederick's piano and voice, a repeated simple lyric and then an extended instrumental section, again featuring strings and a long, sparkling guitar solo. On one level it is all so simple, but built up in layers until the effect is spectacular.

Coda is the second (almost - it has a muted one line, repeated and harmonised lyric) instrumental and is an evocative lead into the churning church organ of Graves (again, as a single, already reviewed here) - lyrically about stultifying small town lives but with hope ingrained in the compelling chorus and music.

The penultimate track, Heading South, is a graceful piano song that builds into a moving full band finale (and runs Fall very close for the standout acolade), and then the album closes with the gentle marching rhythm of Borders, the last instrumental, again elevated by a faultlessly arranged string section.

The musical developments on this album from Hebron are incremental - in impact James Bennetts' harder, flawlessly driven drumming has greater prominence, there is more emotive eloquence in the guitar breaks (Colenso Jones' playing on Fall is especially deft, and Martin Webb's accomplished on Amber), and greater variety in style and form - but most importantly the album demonstrates overall that Climbing Trees have matured into a genuinely significant group.

Borders is 'Big Music': a definitive Cymrucana masterpiece - it is dynamic, magnificent, and stunning.